September 27, 2007 -- The first of the two Platinum Performance/United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) Show Jumping Talent Search Finals provided top-class competition despite a nasty battle with Mother Nature which resulted in cancelled classes and creative competition management by the Los Angeles International Horse Show.
Held in Griffith Park, the horse show was abbreviated by a powerful storm on September 21 which knocked out power to the showgrounds and over 25,000 homes in the surrounding area. This warranted the cancellation of many classes on September 22, but the Talent Search continued and Natalie Rae Medlock from Orange, Calif., prevailed as the champion of the West.
The Talent Search Finals West is made up of four phases over three days: flatwork, gymnastics, jumping and a ride-off. The ride-off is based on the format used in the show jumping world championships where the top four riders come back and ride their own horses and the other three horses over the same course.
The talented pool of 41 riders, judged by George Morris and Jeffrey Welles, put forth a great exhibition of riding. The courses designed by Morris and Welles were challenging but fair, allowing for a close competition between the top riders. Morris, a traditionalist, loved the added variables of the different arenas and the weather.
"Griffith Park is a great venue for such a thing," said Morris. "With the indoor and the lighting, that always adds an element of difficulty, then there is the outdoor with natural fences, and then luckily for me there was a realistic rainstorm, which is very European."
The flat and gymnastics phases were held in the Equidome, while jumping and the ride-Off were held in the grass outdoor arena, which includes such natural obstacles as a bank, ditches and an open water.
Running the timer and the loudspeaker off of a generator on the final day, the Talent Search continued despite the elements.
Medlock, 20, put forth a very professional performance all weekend, and Morris was impressed with her maturity and skill. She had contested her first grand prix earlier in the summer.
"The final four always sorts itself out," said Morris. "The girl that won, she won by quite a margin. She really was the winner. The girl that was second (Tina DiLandri, 16, from La Jolla, Calif.) was second by quite a margin. She made some subtle mistakes, nothing blatant, but it was a few subtle mistakes that separated her from the winner."
Medlock, a student of Hap Hansen and Leslie Steele, rode Hansen's Y2K to the win. Y2K was honored as the best horse of the competition, winning the Gulliver Trophy, donated by Karen Healey.
"George told us in the riders' meeting not to be perfect and get caught up in the picture. He reminded us to ride," said Medlock.
Medlock followed his instructions and added her name to a list of previous winners including the likes of U.S. team members McLain Ward, Lauren Hough and Richard Spooner, as well as current European champion Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum.
2007 Platinum Performance/USEF Talent Search Finals West Results
1. Natalie Rae Medlock of Orange, Calif.
2. Tina DiLandri of La Jolla, Calif.
3. Allison LaJoie of Coto de Caza, Calif.
4. Michelle Morris of La Canada, Calif.
5. Carly Anthony of Redmond, Wash.
6. Sophie Benjamin of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.
7. Saer Coulter of San Francisco, Calif.
8. Shelby Wakeman of Westlake Village, Calif.
9. Zoe Kornberg of Portola Valley, Calif.
10. Rebecca Sexton of Woodinville, Wash.
The Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Search Finals East will take place in Gladstone, N.J., October 6-7. Read Nancy Jaffer's coverage on EquiSearch.com the night of October 7.